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Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 3 of 10 | Arts & Activities
Oct 2015

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 3 of 10

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 3 of 10

Lesson 3 of 10
Contour Studies
by Debi West

I have come to think of LINE as the most essential element in art, and the one I teach my students early on. Some may argue with this thought, but I believe line forms the shapes of all objects. It is important that we teach our students to “see” through contour line; that is, the outer and inner line of objects. When we train students to “see” these lines, direct observational drawing becomes easier and more successful.

We spend several weeks on the art of the contour line. The first of these lessons begins with a simple PowerPoint showcasing three examples of how artists achieve contour line success.

First, we learn about blind contour. Students look at their hands and draw the exact lines they see, without peeking at their papers. Their eyes should follow the outer and inner lines they see.

I ask them to pretend the lines are small, wingless bugs. Since they cannot fly, if the pencils are lifted off of the paper, the bugs will crash! The kids love this analogy and it forces them to remember to not lift their drawing pencil and focus on making their contour lines continuous.

Of course, there are many laughs as students start out on the blind contour drawing journey, but soon they all become focused and the work begins to take shape—literally!

Next, we move onto the partial blind contours, that is where the students can “peek” at their drawings to keep the proportions more on point. Students find great success in this technique and the contour drawings of their hands get stronger and stronger. We will often spend a full class period working on these two techniques in our visual journals.

Finally, we move into a contour study where students can look at both their hands and their papers, but the hope is that they have learned that if they don’t “see” what they are drawing, they can’t possibly be as successful as they would like.

An extension of this is to give students a 5″ x 4″ piece of transparency paper and place it lightly on their non-dominant hand, palm side up. Then they lightly trace the outer and inner edges of the contour lines they see with a thin-tipped permanent marker. These are always beautiful and when they do a compare/contrast of this work with their actual drawings, they can better see where they need to work on their “looking” skills. From here, students are ready to begin working on their projects.

BSF1115_1PART ONE: Hand Studies in Color Students continue to practice until they’re ready to draw a large contour hand on 12″ x 18″ black paper. Once these have been sketched in pencil, students go over the lines with white glue. They are taught to consider the negative space and break some of it up using vertical or horizontal lines, to play with the composition. Their work is then placed on the dry rack until the following class.

Next day, students fill in the positive space of the hand using a cool or warm color chalk pastel rub; they then use the opposite color harmony for the negative space. This lesson is a great way to introduce students to chalk pastel as well as solidifying their contour skills and introducing them to color theories.

BSF1115_2PART TWO: Partner Portraits The second lesson is one that’s always successful, when teachers take the time to really let their students experiment and experience drawing in contour.

Students look across the table and begin drawing their neighbors, using nothing but blind contour, partial blind contour and, finally, pure contour. I model this for them on the board and we discuss how this technique is how caricature artists work.

The emphasis of their work should be on the face of their partners; the background can be a light version of what they actually see. Students are amazed at how well these turn out after only a few practice rounds.

By the second day, they are ready to sketch these out onto 9″ x 12″ white drawing paper. Then, they go over their pencil lines using thin and thick tipped black permanent markers. We discuss the importance of line quality in contour, and then go back to our color discussions and consider what color harmonies work best together.

Finally, we discuss methods of creating texture in our art and how each medium can change the texture. Students then complete their work by coloring in the areas with crayon, art stix and markers to create different textures.

This is the first true drawing lesson where students are starting to feel like they can actually draw, and it’s exciting to see their reactions as we hang their work in a large hallway exhibit. The student artworks make for a strong contour- study showcase of the power and importance of LINE in art!

Next up? Grid art. Yes, grid art! 

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.

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